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Few Western Wisconsin Public Institutions Purchasing Green Energy

The UWRF Survey Research Center finds that electricity from renewable sources makes up slightly more than seven percent of total energy use in public institutions in western Wisconsin.

SEPT. 12, 2008--High prices, uncertainty over future supplies, and concerns about global warming have brought energy issues to the forefront of policy debates in Washington, D.C. and communities across the country.

These same factors are at play in western Wisconsin where "green" economic development opportunities and the desire to sustain rural working lands are fueling a growing interest in renewable energy like wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass, say organizers of a recent survey conducted by University of Wisconsin-River Falls Survey Research Center. But the data collected show that while there is a lot of interest and support for green energy, there is not a great deal of actual use at this point in time.

"There is a huge groundswell of support for renewable energy in St. Croix County," says Pete Kling, UW-Extension agent for St. Croix County, which funded the survey. "In the past year more than 500 people have attended renewable energy forums, roundtables and field tours in Western Wisconsin to learn more about opportunities in our own backyards."

According to the survey, electricity from renewable sources makes up slightly more than 7 percent, on average, of total energy use in public institutions. The proportion of total electricity used by these organizations that comes from "green" sources is quite variable, ranging from a high of 25 percent to a low of 2.5 percent.  

The Survey Research Center conducted the survey in spring 2008 to quantify electrical usage by public organizations including local governments and schools in order to better understand the current and expected future demand for renewable energy in western Wisconsin. The survey was funded by a grant obtained by UW-Extension through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Government often plays a key role in nurturing emerging markets such as renewable energy development. Andrew Dane, UW-Extension agent for Chippewa and Barron counties, says local municipalities are being proactive. "Local elected officials are starting to take action in our area by establishing county energy committees in Polk, Barron, Chippewa, and St. Croix counties," he says.  

Besides saving tax dollars and contributing to a cleaner environment, Dane says, communities can use the purchasing power of local government to act as a catalyst for the development of renewable energy. "Promoting renewables has the potential to create jobs and plug the flow of dollars leaving our region to purchase imported energy," says Dane.

The Survey Research Center sent 145 surveys to city and county administrators, facility managers for universities and technical colleges, and leaders of hospitals and school districts in western Wisconsin.

Based on the 88 public institutions that responded, the survey found that more education and information about renewable energy resources is needed. Moreover, most public organizations do not currently have a renewable energy goal--only three organizations reported that they have such a goal. These three expect to satisfy their renewable energy needs by purchasing these kilowatts from sources within Wisconsin or their own county.

The data also provide a valuable baseline against which future studies can be compared, showing that currently renewable energy generally makes up a relatively small proportion of the total electrical use of public institutions in Western Wisconsin.   

According to David Trechter, director of the Survey Research Center and chair of the UWRF agricultural economics department, the data isn't necessarily discouraging. "The relatively low proportion of renewable electricity used by most schools, cities and other public organizations doesn't mean that our public officials are asleep at the switch," he said. "Only about four percent of the energy produced in Wisconsin comes from renewable sources. In addition, public officials have to balance legitimate concerns about climate change with their fiscal reality. Finally, some electricity providers don't even have programs that allow their patrons to buy additional blocks of renewable energy. For these institutions, they couldn't increase their use of renewable energy even if they wanted to."  

According to the survey, organizations did not report that they were overly price sensitive when it comes to purchasing renewable energy. Few organizations said they would change their renewable energy block purchase if the price increased or decreased by $1 (based on variations from a common price for energy blocks of $3/300kWh).

Shelly Hadley, lead author of the report, said the survey is very useful to begin studying renewable energy usage, demand and availability for the region. "It's important to explore current and expected future demand for green power among homeowners and the private sector in western Wisconsin," Hadley said. Increasing the number of electricity suppliers with programs that allow consumers to purchase additional blocks of renewable energy is also an important task for people interested in expanding the use of renewable energy, she said.   

Developing local renewable energy comes with social, environmental, and economic opportunities and challenges, say the report authors, and understanding these issues is critical in determining which renewable energy sources can work.

Dane and Kling are working with local elected officials, businesses and citizens on these issues to help address these concerns and provide educational opportunities on renewable energy.   For more information visit or contact Dane at 715.725.7950 or Kling at 715.684.3301 ext. 141.

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Editor's Note: For more information about the previous news release contact UW Extension, Pete Kling, 715.684.3301 ext. 141, or Dave Trechter, UWRF, 715.425.3176 or 3129.


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:09:10 Central Daylight Time


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